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194          MY    COUNTRY    AND    MY    PEOPLE

the Ningpo Guild, etc. Whenever there are rich merchants,
these guilds are always liberally endowed. The ChangcKiian
Guild of my native town has in Shanghai a property valued at
over a million dollars. It keeps a school in which our native
children may study free of tuition. The guilds may always serve
as hotels, like the Western club-houses, being very inexpensive,
and sometimes have a peculiar system of paying for board,
besides providing the travelling merchant with all the facilities
of local guidance. In the Manchu days, when scholars from
all over the country had to go to Peking for the triennial
examinations, there was not a province or district that did not
have its own guild-house in the capital. If one could not find
one's district guild, one could always find a provincial guild.
In these guilds the scholars and candidates for magistracies
stayed, sometimes with their families, as in permanent hotels.
Certain provinces, like Shansi and Anhui, spread a network
of such guilds to enable their merchants to carry on trade all
over the country.

Back at home, this village spirit enables the people to develop
a system of communal government, the only real government
in China, the "central government" being known only by its
harassing yamen tax-collectors and its soldiers who always
raise a hullabaloo on their official descents into the country.
The central government really taxed the people very little in
the good old imperial days, and from the villager's point of
view, "the heaven was high and the emperor far away."
Conscription for military service was unknown. When the
country was at peace there was neither war nor banditry, and
only the riffraff of society ever thought of becoming soldiers.
When the country was not at peace, it was in any case difficult
to distinguish between the soldiers of the government and the
bandits of the country, a distinction which is totally unneces-
sary. In fact, no such distinction is logically tenable. As
regards law and justice, the people always fought shy of the
law court, ninety-five per cent of village disputes being settled
by the village elders. To be involved in a lawsuit was ipso
facto ignominious* Good old people often boasted that they
had never entered an official yamen or law court in their
lifetimes. So of the three most important functions of the